In the course of discussing the infamous graph showing the longitudinal increase in the median age of first-R01 award, and the other infamous slide deck showing the aging of the distribution of all NIH-funded PIs there is something that eventually comes up.
@drugmonkeyblog you're approaching 60, and NIH says "automatic 7 yr renewal, but it tapers, and it's your last grant." Would u take it?
— Michael Hendricks (@MHendr1cks) October 12, 2014
To wit, how do we ease the older investigators out of the system, at least to the extent of cutting down how many grants they submit and are awarded?
One person suggested:
— Caroline (@CarolineEBass) October 12, 2014
The first answer is, this already happens. It is a trifle bit harder to track now that RePORTER doesn't seem to have quite as much historical data as the old CRISP system did. And there is no way to specifically search out changes in PI that I am aware of (i.e., it doesn't have some sort of code in the NIH database as does a change in institution or funding IC). But if you keep your eyes out and click on the "History" tab of grant records over at RePORTER, you can occasionally see a younger PI taking over a grant from an older PI. Often this is at the point of a competitive renewal cycle but occasionally (and smarter) the plan will be to put the younger person on as PI in the last 2 years of an awarded interval.
This comes into play frequently, in my experience, when you are talking about BigMech awards, particularly Centers. These are larger programs of research that frequently undergo transitions in the participating component/project PIs and even in the Center Director slot. In fact, we've just come through a round of about 5-8 years in which some Centers in which I have interest (and of which I have knowledge because of peer scientists within them) have been hit with a review mantra: "What are your plans for transitioning to younger scientists?". In several cases I can point to, the Centers have accomplished this feat. The long-standing component heads and even the Center Directors in some cases, have changed from the Older Guard to younger participants. Young Guns and Mid Guns. One, at the least, is on the third generation, the way I calculate it.
In some of these situations there is a smooth exit path for the older investigators. Perhaps they slide down to co-PI or even just "Investigator" on a component. Maybe they have a role on the Administration core or something. Oversee the "Developmental Core".
This appears to be the suggestion of the second Tweet here- as I said, it already exists.
The second answer is, hell no, this leads to stagnation of the science.
And that is really the question for the day. Should we be seeking to continue sustained research programs beyond the natural career life of a given PI? Or is this inherently a bad idea to keep supporting clones of successful PIs? Yes, I realize that we can all argue from anecdote on each side- let's try to avoid this. Is it generally good for the NIH to encourage or discourage such practices?
Are Centers and Program Projects likely to be special in this regard? Should continual PI transition be for Ps and not for Rs?
Are we better, overall, if we just leave it up to new-penny proposals of new projects at different Universities? Should R ...-26s simply go away into the good night?